Love it or hate it, the 1911 pistol is kind of a big deal, even if just for its longevity. Just past the turn of the previous century, the Army figured out it wanted an autoloading handgun with similar ballistic capability to the .45 Colt which had served them well. Since our military folks rode around on horseback at that time, features like easy one-handed operation and grip safeties were important. If you drop your handgun mid-gallop, you don’t want it to go off when it hits the ground.
In response, John Moses Browning, may he rest in peace, came up with the 1911. The Army liked its ease of use and hard-hitting power, which, according to 1911 guru Robert Campbell, is like “a velvet covered brick.”
You’ll hear gun folks talk in reverential tones about the pistol named 1911. Yes, it’s a year, but it’s also pistol design. Not a manufacturer or a specific model, but a design – kind of like how a pickup truck is a design. Lot’s of car manufacturers make pickups, and you can get them with different size engines, but they all have some common features, like seats in the front and a cargo bed in the back.
What makes a 1911 a 1911?
The purist definition of a 1911 might be an a pistol that exactly copies John Moses Browning’s famous design produced in the year, you guessed it, 1911. But even that was tweaked by the military a few years later with the A1 model. Since that time, thousands of gunmakers have produced 1911-style pistols with various tweaks to the original design.
At what point do “design enhancements” cause a gun to be something other than a 1911? Are there design features that, if tampered with, cause a 1911 to morph into something else?
Perhaps the best way to define the 1911 is by the collection of characteristics:
Short recoil operation with tilting barrel and swinging link
You’ll notice that 1911 pistol barrels have a moving link on the bottom under the chamber. As the pistol fires, the barrel and slide move backward together for a short distance. At this point, the link rotates the breech end of the barrel downward, unlocking it from the slide. This allows the slide to travel backward and eject the spent cartridge case. The recoil spring sends the slide forward, picking up a fresh cartridge along the way and recapturing the barrel.
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